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'Now I know how delusional our teachers are and I'm really scared'

We are governed not by reality but by the persecution mania of a caste of permanent, pensionable government employees

Last Thursday, I wrote a column about the attitude of the teachers' unions towards our national crisis. I was pessimistic about our future when I wrote it; and now, reviewing the response to it from the teaching community, I am absolutely terrified. For whereas over 100 non-teachers sent me emails supporting what I wrote, a dozen teachers attacked me, and every one of them -- every single one of them -- told me how they deserved their money and their existing holidays, because they were so committed and worked so very hard, et cetera.

They had, absolutely, no grasp of reality. None. It was like hearing the complaints of a first-class passenger on the Titanic after the crew has been told to ready the lifeboats. "I'm not getting on to a lifeboat," he declares. "I paid for a stateroom to New York, bathroom en suite, and that's what I'm going to have. And if I don't get it, why, I'll tell you this: we stateroom passengers will not co-operate with the purser, and we won't have dinner with the captain, and we'll be rude to the crew, and we'll do a lot of other horrid things you won't like. Now take me to New York."

The ship is going down. There will be no staterooms disgorging their passengers in New York. The teachers are amongst the lucky ones. They will have jobs as the rest of society flounders around them. Yet they complain. It is pathetic, but it is part of a grisly, terrible nightmare, in which we are governed not by reality but the persecution mania of an entire caste of permanent and pensionable government employees.

Teachers are the single most powerful group in the Dail. Their use of that power -- the granting of top-up income to TDs to pay for "temporary" replacement teachers in their stead for the duration of their political careers -- is one of the central scandals of Irish political life. It also means that TDs who were once teachers can still claim teachers' pensions whenever they retire (plus, of course, all the other pensions that flow from Leinster House like waters from the source of the Nile).

But TDs are not the only absentee teachers. In 2006, there were 17 primary school pupils and 15 secondary pupils to every teacher. But so many teachers -- over 40pc -- were on leave or absent at any one time, that the effective pupil/teacher rate was 27/1. This is eye-watering stuff.

In line with the steadfast pluck of our pedagogic class, the vast majority of TDs have refused to sacrifice a single penny in bonuses, pensions or expenses, despite the Budget undertakings from the minister. This is the example that our elected representatives set the nation -- and, more to the point, that which they set our 369,000 public servants. For there is a public servant for every 10 people in this republic -- man, woman and child. And while 140 men and women a day in the private sector are losing their jobs, seven days a week, the public service remains intact. It even has its own political arm -- the Labour Party.

We pay for this undiminishing army in two ways. Firstly, by borrowing over €60m a day, at increasingly expensive rates, because our credit rating has been blown to pieces by the failure of the Government to do anything about, guess what, the cost of the public service. Secondly, by higher taxes. And listen, we've already been here. It was called the 1980s, the Ansbacher decade, when anyone who had any money avoided tax by smuggling it offshore, and when you paid tradesmen only in ready money, for the same reason.

The lesson from the 1980s was that higher taxation effectively results in a tax strike, legal and otherwise, by taxpayers, with an accordingly diminishing tax take. From the 1990s, the lesson was low taxes, more revenue.

We're now racing back 25 years, leap-frogging the 1990s, to the diseased Ansbacher epoch, in which there are two distinct economies, and two co-existing and contradictory moralities. In other words, we've learnt nothing from the tribunals. Yet it was the culture of tax evasion which was the seedbed for all the abuses which gave us those insane inquiries, with their insane fees to those far-from-insane barristers, some of whom individually earn more altogether in a year than many people earn in an entire lifetime.

Like so many taxpayers, I've now reached the point where I spend more of my time working for the Revenue Commissioners than I do for myself. If I could find a way of avoiding that, I would. And believe me, cleverer people than me will do just that -- especially if they see the public service in their lifeboats drinking hot soup from their Thermos flasks, and complaining about how thin their blankets are, while around them, the private sector is frantically treading water, and the unemployed are drowning.

Until last week, I really didn't know how bad things had become, or how self-obsessed and delusional were our teachers -- who, remember, are the best paid in Europe, with the shortest working year. Now I know. And now, I'm really, really scared.

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kmyers@independent.ie


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